Think about your favorite technological advancements of the past twenty years. Is it that phones have gone from hanging on the wall by a cord to fitting in your pocket? Is it that medical advancements are keeping people alive longer than ever, and improving quality of life? Is it that computers have gone from black and green behemoths to fitting in your pocket? Technology seems to have made inconceivable bounds in the past twenty years, but what about in the filmmaking industry? Green screen usage has come a long way in creating realistic worlds that previously existed only in our imaginations. 3D technology has advanced…a little. But why — in an age of such mechanized wonder – are we still envying characters like Captain America and James Bond, instead of becoming them? Personal VR technology is just now being made available to the average consumer, but this was only the first step. The next step is Hardcore Henry.
The film begins with a man named Henry awaking in a hi-tech laboratory with no memory of his past; as well as only an arm and a leg. A beautiful scientist named Estelle (Haley Bennett) — who tells him she’s his wife – is his only source of information about his past. Just after Estelle gives Henry new, enhanced robotic limbs, an albino, telekinetic madman named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) storms the lab and eventually kidnaps Estelle. Henry now has to find Estelle without memories, a voice modulator, or a clue of whom he’s up against. Luckily for Henry, he finds he has a myriad of combat skills; and some allies in a series of quirky clones of a single, well equipped man named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley). Together, they’ll tear through Moscow (and a slew of mercenaries) as Henry attempts to recover his memories and his wife.
Hardcore Henry is the brainchild of Russian musician Ilya Naischuller; frontman for the indie rock band, Biting Elbows. The inspiration for the film came from the band’s music videos for the songs “The Stampede” and “Bad Motherf@#$!r”, which were both directed by Naischuller utilizing a brutal, bloody first person POV style. The adrenaline-inducing effect was achieved by mounting a GoPro Hero 3 camera on a custom-built mask worn by the protagonist. The video not only went viral in Naishculler’s native Russia, but also received massive attention around the world.
Despite Naishuller lacking any formal (or informal, for that matter) training or instruction in the art of filmmaking, he was inspired to turn his Internet acclaim into something larger. On his own, Naishuller crafted a script tentatively titled Hardcore, and was enable to enlist the services of acclaimed indie actors Sharlto Copley and Tim Roth. While the rest of the cast may seem unrecognizable at first, it’s full of prominent Russian and American actors that are quite familiar with the action genre (Naishuller’s own wife, singer/producer Dasha Charusha, plays a dominatrix in the film). Much of the film’s production budget came from the director’s wildly successful Indiegogo from 2014, fueled by the internet infamy of Bad Motherf@#$!r.
Hardcore Henry premiered at the 2015 Toronto International film festival and, being one of the most talked about films there, sparked a grandiose bidding war between several studios. Despite only having produced a films (including The Gift, The Boy, and the upcoming Free State of Jones), newcomer STX Entertainment excitedly emerged victorious at $10 million; making Hardcore Henry their very first film acquisition.
Despite the innovative style of the film and the exciting possibilities it opens for the future of filmmaking, critics have still had some negative comments concerning Hardcore Henry. Many are saying that the directorial style only appeals to “gamers”. Others say the film lacks depth, and that the action sequences aren’t exciting enough. These are the same criticisms faced by directors like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder, whose films still earn millions upon millions of dollars from audiences that head to theaters not for emotional performances by actors or for heartwarming plots; but for fun, straightforward action films. The only difference is that these directors have many more years of experience and millions of dollars more in film budgets than an indie musician in Russia, with far fewer new ideas. Nobody criticized the Lumière brothers or Georges Méliès for lack of character development, a shallow plot, or low-budget scenery when they were pioneering film in its early years. And while some critics claim the first person perspective will make people “nauseous” or “queasy”, it’s an argument that can be made for nearly any of the videos and films watched by VR users today. If virtual reality is the wave of the future, then the bold, adventurous style of Hardcore Henry is a precursor that will hopefully inspire a revolutionary, new kind of filmmaking. Find showtimes and tickets for Hardcore Henry here.